Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Five men arrested in the alleged plot to kidnap former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, the wife of English soccer captain David Beckham, were charged in London Monday with theft and conspiracy to rob Sotheby's auction house, The Associated Press reports. Nine people were arrested over the weekend after the UK tabloid The News of the World informed police that its reporters had discovered the kidnapping bid. According to the tabloid, its reporters had infiltrated a gang of Romanian and Albanian kidnappers who planned to knock out the singer and possibly her two children with a chemical spray and demand a ransom of about $7.7 million. This is not the first time Beckham has been at the center of a kidnapping plot. Police uncovered a plan to snatch the singer and her son Brooklyn two years ago, but no arrests were made. The Beckhams have since beefed up security at their home.
Investigators plan to question a man Monday in connection to the shooting death of Run-DMC member Jam Master Jay, whose real name was Jason Mizell. According to the AP, investigators say the man had been feuding with Mizell for as long as a decade and had threatened one of his associates several weeks ago.
Michael Clarke Duncan, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Rosario Dawson were honored Sunday at the 10th annual Diversity Awards in Los Angeles, the AP reports. Duncan was presented with the Integrity Award while Johnson received the 2002 Nova Award at the voter's choice for the best rising star of the year. Dawson received the Female Nova Award. The awards are intended to raise awareness of different cultures and ideas in the entertainment industry.
Rosie O'Donnell said she would publicly defend Martha Stewart if she still had her talk show. O'Donnell told the AP, "I'd be singing Martha Stewart a love song every day. I want every housewife in America to band together and refuse to let them tear down one of the most successful entrepreneurs in our country's history." O'Donnell is a former spokesperson for K-Mart, which features Martha Stewart's Everyday line.
Millionaire playboy producer Steve Bing is making his directorial debut with the fittingly titled comedy Why Men Shouldn't Marry. According to Variety the film will star Sean Penn as a man who becomes anti-marriage after a painful divorce, and Woody Allen as a multiple divorcé who believes a marriage can be successful. Shooting is set to begin in Los Angeles next August.
NBC is about to gain an important entertainment outlet on cable. The network announced Monday it is buying Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Bravo cable television network. According to Reuters, the deal is valued at $1.25 billion. Under the term, NBC, which is owned by General Electric Co., would trade its 16 percent stake in Cablevision and an unspecified amount of GE shares for Cablevision's 80 percent stake in Bravo. NBC will also pay $250 million in cash to MGM for its 20 percent stake in Bravo.
Fox has ordered a pilot for a sitcom based on Universal Picture's About A Boy, which grossed nearly $100 million worldwide. The film, adapted from Nick Hornsby's bestseller, stars Hugh Grant as an immature British bachelor who changes his ways when he meets a twelve-year-old boy and his depressed mother. The series is targeted for fall 2003.
Kelsey Grammer's production company, Paramount-based Grammnet Productions, is developing a Three's Company style sitcom for Fox, Variety reports. Ex-Factor is about a twentysomething man who moves in with two of his ex-girlfriends. Grammnet also produces the UPN comedy Girlfriends.